Interview with Justin Rabindra, acclaimed photographer and Former Vice President, Training & Knowledge Management, Ogilvy

Justin Rabindra

Justin Rabindra talks about the role of visual memory in brand building; the noise on social media and how adversiting still pays or pays off..

Do you see any synergies between your years in advertising and your current passion/profession?

Yes, advertising is a very visual business and my early influence has been from the business as an account management person when I accompanied and supervised shoots with people like Pradeep Dasgupta, Akash Das, Adrian Steven and others.

At a less obvious level, while there a several technically fine images out there, I judge a good image by its ability to move me emotionally. This is something that can’t be taught and I believe I acquired this skill from many years of working in a visually rich industry like advertising.

At it’s most obvious, when I shoot a product for a client, I try to communicate (or sell) without words, and that’s definitely a synergy that exists with the ol’ industry.

How important is visual representation for brands? Do you think Indian brands are cognizant of its importance?

It’s extremely important. Indian advertising and marketing people learnt that early on in the evolution of the business, in large part because a significant portion of the Indian market is semiliterate or illiterate and depend on visual cues to recognize and decide on brands.

Thanks to Facebook and other social networking sites, every one wants to be projected as a celebrity- most importantly through pictures. What sort of opportunity do you see for personal branding in the future?

That’s so true. Like a joke that goes around on Facebook, ‘Are people’s lives really as amazing as they make it out to be on Facebook?’ A lot of what’s happening on social media is just noise, the equivalent of a offline brand that blasts media with overkill because they have the budget. Consumers in the offline world were intelligent enough to filter out the chaff for the wheat. Similarly the online audience takes branding activities online with a pinch of salt. The beauty of it is that the truly beautiful brands, the ones that succeed do so despite less advertising frequency (or eyeballs or pageviews) and less strategic behavior because if the brand has talent it will eventually leak out for the world to see and admire, despite having a smaller budget than their giant rivals.

How can photography contribute to branding- corporate or individual?

Visual memory is a lot more enduring than the other kind. For several products the image in an appropriate context tells a more evocative story than any advertising created by an agency. Jeremy Bullmore said, ‘Brands are built the way birds build nests. With scraps and straws they happen upon.‘ Photographs are those scraps and straws. They could be taken professionally or they could be random, casually shot images taken on an iPhone. They add up. Conversely, photographs can also damage a brand. That’s the beauty of social media. It’s no more in the marketer’s control anymore.

She Can You Can: How Tupperware Captured the Indian Imagination

tupperware One campaign that has truly wedded an innovative business model with an equally impressive marketing campaign- is Tupperware’s She Can You Can. The campaign leveraged Print, PR, Social Media and Microsites to position the new powerful She Can woman- the essence of the brand. The marketing team had a very well defined idea of this person and pushed it cohesively and effectively through all media channels:-

•A person who chased her dream, even if it meant going against the tide
•A person who had risen through her own effort- A woman next door
•Not very old, early 30s- since the company wanted to recruit a younger profile amongst its sales force
•Someone who has achieved recognition in her own circles, but not a celebrity
The trick was to go beyond the the Tupperware sales force- and make this a campaign for women empowerment. Two protagonists were shortlisted for this:
–Saloni Malhotra: Engineer, but went to rural India to start a BPO
–Chhavi Rajawat: MBA, but gave up her job to become Mayor of a village
Stories were pitched in Mid-Day. Teasers were launched on Facebook. A Microsite was created: as was a YouTube channel. The campaign achieved phenomenal results- more than 20K SMS enquiries and 10K from the website. But the biggest acheivement was that it inspired many Indian women to transition from being housewives to business consultants.

Building brands: Leveraging technology for storytelling


At a conference earlier this year, Rajdeep Endow, Managing Director of Sapient India, opined that consistently reinforcing the “story” of a brand is vital to its longevity. “The values of a brand and its image depend on the story of the brand itself. If that story remains intact, the brand can sustain itself,” he suggests. “A brand should encourage dialogue with the customer but rely on its experience to go through the story.”

As an example of best practice, he cited the case study of Hindustan Unilever, the FMCG manufacturer, and its attempt to establish Kwality Wall’s ice cream in India. The company introduced a vending machine that rewarded a consumer for smiling into a display screen with a free ice cream, thus reinforcing the positive message at the heart of its marketing campaigns.

Deepali Nair, Country Head, Brand Customer Service and Corporate Communications at L&T Insurance, provides another example of new technology being used to tell a brand story, with the company’s “Likh Ke Doge Kya” campaign. This focused on digital channels as well as TV, with the former medium offering 24/7 opportunities and allowing for conversations with consumers, and the latter promising considerable reach.


Sanjay Tripathi, executive vice president, marketing, at HDFC Life, another insurance provider, reports that it had based the “Sar utha ke jiyo” campaign on similar reasoning. To counter the increasingly outdated view that men are responsible for a family’s financial security, it developed a Facebook page aimed at female consumers, promoting them as equal partners in financial decision-making.

A key way of determining the effectiveness of such ideas, Tripathi added, is collecting feedback and monitoring data. “We should always understand the chatter that goes around the brand. The most important part is to keep the right balance between the brand and the technology so that none of it depends on each other.”

In the Business of Relaxation: In conversation with Anurag Kedia, Director- The Four Fountains Spa

It started with Sakina’s comment on my blog. She was working with Four Fountains Spa as a Digital Marketing Manager and wanted to offer me a complementary therapy at their spa chain….The spa freak that I am, I jumped at the offer.Later that day, after a de stress therapy which lasted for almost a couple of hours, a detailed diet plan and a good feeling, I left the Four Fountains Spa in Gurgaon.

The easy option would be to write a review. But that’s not what I wanted to do. For a long time now, I have wondered at the mushrooming spa chains in the country. Besides, I found it particularly interesting that a spa chain would have such an evolved digital marketing strategy. So instead of writing a review, I decided to interview Anurag, Director of The Four Fountains Spa Chain.

Director, Four Fountains Spa

Director, Four Fountains Spa

How did it all begin? What got you excited about spas?

There are three of us involved in this- Anurag Kedia, Saurabh Garg and Sunil Rao. We are all management graduates of the batch of 2004. Saurabh and Sunil were working with Hindustan Lever. Anurag was with KPMG Consulting, Saurabh and Anurag went to IIM Ahemadabad and Sunil went to SP Jain. As part of our regular jobs, we were traveling a lot. The companies would put us up in fancy five star hotels where the entire bill would be taken care of by the company except the spa bill. With our hectic travel schedules, we would crave for a massage, but a spa therapy in our hotels would cost around 4-5 K.  Even outside five star hotels, the price points were not very different. Another feeling was that even coming from some of the best places, we felt out of place when we were in a spa. The entire approach towards customers was very snooty. It was almost like a fine art gallery, where if you went, you were supposed to know what fine art is.

What came to our mind was that maybe nobody has thought of spas which are affordable. The language of spas is very romanticized even when customers who go there are middle class customers.

Four fountains has a solutions and health focus. The communication is aimed at explaining the customer the end results of the therapy and is therefore not obsessing on the threadbare details of the process.

Why are spas mushrooming now?

There are certain macro-economic changes that are happening. People are commuting more, increased work pressures, relationship demands. There is an increased focus on health. Why is Kellog selling so many more cereals today? Yoga classes today? IF in 90s, someone went to a gym, you would associate him with body building. Today if you don’t go to the gym, you feel guilty about it. There is a general consensus that going to the gym is a good health practice.

Similarly, if you look at the concept of massages, new borns and their mothers in India are given massages for the first few months. This is a very Indian concept. Indians really appreciate the concept of massages. However, when it comes to going to the spa, it is associated with pampering rather than health.  We felt there is a disconnect between our understanding of massage as a culture and our understanding of spas. This is the reason why all our communication is aimed at re-establishing the value of massage from the point of view of health. It has been a conscious decicion not to use the word pampering, indulgence even once in any of our communication. We stress on research on benefits of the massage. We are trying to play a role that Café Coffee Day was playing 15 years back in terms of bringing in the coffee shop culture.

We are also catering to highly competitive price points to help customers adapt to the very concept of massage.

Why the membership model?

Because there are people who want to use very regularly. For such customers, we want to make the prizes very competitive.  For walk in customers also, the prices are very competitive. Right now the membership

Old spas-700 to 800

Gurgaon- 50 or 100

Pune-1000 or 1200

Membership contributes to 50% of our overall revenue.

What is your focus on training?

As a brand we have a training academy in Pune. It is a 60 day training programme, for 9 hours every day. It is one of the most intensive training programmes in the industry. The contact hours 450. There is a test at the end of the training programme. If they don’t get a minimum score, they are not sent to the spas. The scores are on individual therapies. Every 12 months, there is an audit.

This is also CSR in a way. We are providing this free of cost. We have an NGO tie up for sourcing candidates to identify the right candidates with the right attitude. We not only provide free training, but also accommodation. The starting salaries are 10K. The tips range from 2-4K.

In terms of growth path, we offer an increment every six months. People are promoted to senior therapists and the ones who perform very well then move up to become trainers.

Has Shopping Become More Complicated?


According to a McKinsey & Company report titled ‘The Great Indian Bazaar: Organized Retail Comes of Age in India’, organized retail in India is expected to increase from 5 per cent of the total market in 2008 to 14 – 18 per cent of the total retail market and reach US$ 450 billion by 2015. Indians are shopping more and are shopping differently. So has shopping become more complicated? No, but the shopper has.

As Indian consumers become more secure of their financial future, their demands are becoming more and more complex. Shopping has become more comprehensive. Consumers these days are spoilt for choice. The entry of foreign brands has induced competition and consumers have become highly value conscious. This explains the explosion of malls, hypermarkets, department stores, and convenience stores.

Increased disposable incomes and the attitudinal change towards shopping becoming an activity involving the whole family, have altered the very nature of shopping, which has become synonymous with entertainment. As a response to this, retailers have changed their strategies and have moved to providing experiences as opposed to products.

Another major development in the urban middle class has been the rise of DIG households. This has led to a significant increase in the delivery segment. Retailers offer free home delivery options to incentivize purchase. Even the local Kirana stores are making shopping increasingly easy to keep up with the modern retail formats.

What is satisfied by delivery [convenience] is also addressed by easy financing. Indian consumers today do not need to have cash in hand to shoppe. A plethora of financing options through easy EMIs and credit cards is encouraging people to buy more and buy easily.

The Indian market continues to be the most promising in the world and retail is making it look more glamorous than ever before!

Social Media: Beating the Hard Times

According to a recent report by Brand Finance, the recent economic recession has wiped $67 billion off the brand value of Top 100 Global brands. As organizations struggle to maximize ROI on their advertising budgets, this could well be the year when we witness digital and new media coming into the mainstream of the marketing and advertising strategy of corporations.

In most cases, online media is far more measurable in so far as user behavior and sales can be traced back to the original act of click throughs. Having said that, one is skeptical about the blind enthusiasm that some internet advertising enthusiasts- (Read SEM firms)- have been displaying at the cost of more traditional forms of media. One of the dangers of such evangelism is that it misses out on certain nuances of internet and digital media per se.

To begin with, internet aka banner advertising and pay per performance models are designed more from a sales orientation. But there is more to digital media than sales. One of the biggest benefits that it offers is in the form of engagement and thereby long term brand building. This engagement with the target audience can be through blogging, photo sharing, and Audio-video viral campaigns, to name a few. While the immediate objective need not necessarily be increased topline growth, social media can help organizations create strategic brand advantage.

One of the other challenges that marketers are likely to face in such times is the sales promotion doom loop. Social media engagement can help marketers get out of this reductive spiral by helping create brand equity through sharper positioning and targeting of customers. One can identify buyer behavior and activity on social networks, target niche bloggers and forums and initiate a more meaningful dialogue with the customers. According to a recent research by Forrester, evolved marketers are likely to use social media to motivate consideration through discussion boards. The research has also come up with findings which reveal that niche communities like Proctor & Gamble’s result in far greater ROI than similarly priced campaigns in mainstream media. In our own backyard, we have already witnessed the success of initiatives like Sunsilk’s GangofGirls community and the more recent gaming application of Marico on Orkut.

Similarly, blogging can be leveraged to create brand equity through thematic thought leadership blogs, of which Infosys’ blogs happen to be the best example from India. Other interesting ways in which Indian companies are using this media for stakeholder engagement is blogs that showcase organizational culture and its management ethos. From FritoLays and Tata Interactive Systems to Mahindra and Wipro, Indian corporates are getting onto the blogwagon. The who’s who of India Inc., like Rajeev Karwal, Vineet Nayyar, Sanjeev Bikhchandani and Ajit Balakrishnan have started leveraging the medium of blogs to establish strong personal brands which thereby consolidate the market position of their own organizations and stand them in good stead in turbulent times.

The year ahead will be interesting to watch out for. In their research, “India Online 2008”, JuxtConsult shows that 81% of the Indian internet users interact using one or more of the social media platforms. Another interesting trend that it reported was that 80% of these regular internet users also shop online! Based on industry surveys and sentiment, looks like “innovation” will rule the roost with most companies going after highly targeted audience for most of their marketing campaigns- what with the more sophisticated marketers endorsing engagement too!

Social Media in Recession

If one rises above the bias of “lies, damn lies and statistics”, surveys across the globe seem to be crying hoarse that social media marketing will thrive in these times of recession. And this seems to be the verdict at both global and local/ Indian levels.

Millward Brown recently conducted a survey on behalf of PRWeek which indicates that 68% of marketers expect their advertising budgets to decrease in the coming year while 75% of those same marketers expect to spend more money than what they had  budgeted on digital marketing programs.

Closer home, a poll of around 50 marketers by R3 shows that 3/4ths of Indian companies will either not up their marketing budgets in 2008-2009 or slash them down further. However, 40% of the respondents planned to spend more than originally planned on digital media.

Accoding to a paper by Forrester Research, “Strategies for Interactive Marketing in a Recession”, email marketing is likely to increase in recession even as marketing budgets get channelized towards more trackable online media such as search marketing programs. The research findings are also very optimistic about interactive social applications and word-of-mouth marketing because they depend on conversations of customers as opposed to a declining and limited ad budget.

Awareness Inc., a social media consultancy presents an interesting model to distinguish social media from direct marketing and brand marketing. See this fig. below:


I seem to be turning an evangelist of the cause..which I am, on second thoughts 🙂

All in the game

Seems like the Sri Lankan players are all ready to dump the England tour next year for their more rosy and glam IPL brethren. And what’s more, the Prez supports the move. It sure is all about money now. I looked at the IPL phenomenon from a branding perspective in my article on brandchannel “Bowling for Cricket Brands”. (

It seems like this is certainly not a flash in the pan. The rules will most likely be rewritten. All in the game!

Mobile Marketing: On a New High

According to a recent forecast by global messaging firm Acision, mobile messaging is expected to grow into a USD billion revenue business by 2011. The growth is primarily driven by markets like Chinindia and North America. India with its huge mobile subsriber base of 200 million is a ripe ground for innovation in this context. The reach of mobile telephony is way beyond the internet and equally effective, if not more, when it comes to campaigns inviting a user/consumer reponse. However, when it comes to brand building, internet might still be a more comprehensive medium for engagement.

Platforms like Facebook are using the same for more enhanced interaction amongst the users. Most television channels in India are already using mobile messaging quite successfully for promoting their programmes. Indian Idol and similar reality shows are the best examples of this.

Top Digital Brands: Global Hits and Misses

A recent survey conducted by Revolution UK reveals interesting trends in the dynamic world of digital branding. Based on the survey of eDigital Research which polled 1,000 uers in the UK to determine the digital hotties for 2007 on parameters like innovation, value for money, customer care, recognition, reliability and longevity, the research has come up with some interesting findings. One interesting discovery has been the declining popularity of brands centered around social media and Web 2.0 social networking.

So Facebook fell from its earlier ranking and so did MySpace and Mebo. Nevertheless, brands like Youtube, Wikipedia continued to do well. Travel Sites have also taken the hit. An interesting change has been the digitisation of media properties like The BBC,The Times, The Independent, The Guardian.